Arsenal 3 – 1 Everton
Today’s post on Arsenal Street is brought to you by the letters ‘Y’ and ‘O’. As in, Y-O-Y did we play so badly in the first three months of this year?
That was, Arsène said, because the “psychologically, the environment for this group of players was absolutely horrendous”. And what caused that? The manner of defeat against Bayern Munich and “certainly my personal situation has contributed to that”.
The upshot is that for the first time in his reign, Arsenal missed out on next season’s Champions League. It was the fault of the “technical department”, Wenger insisted. Mea culpa?
Unsurprisingly, some chose to blame Martin Atkinson for not giving Middlesbrough a penalty at Anfield, disingenuously shifting focus away from the myriad reasons such as not being ready for the season and any number of dropped points this season.
We didn’t miss out on the Champions League because of referees; shooting ourselves in the foot is very much second nature. That was underlined by Laurent Koscielny’s dismissal. No arguments at all; it wasn’t, as Wenger claimed, harsh, nor was it over-reaction from the referee. It was a red card, pure and simple, and a moment of ranks stupidity Koscielny regrets.
And it leaves Arsène with a massive defensive headache for next Saturday. Gabriel is doubtful for the Final, which highlights Koscielny’s lunacy. It defies belief that an experienced player makes a challenge like that, losing all self-control in the heat of the moment.
The impact of his actions registered immediately and most of the players on the field twigged what it meant as well. But it is what it is. The man whose goals rescued Wenger on the final day of the season at West Brom and Newcastle, could undermine the club’s cup ambitions.
Kingdom of Fear
Gabriel’s injury compounded Koscielny’s stupidity; the pressure on the defence next weekend intensified. Illness kept Shkodran Mustafi out of the side – and Kieran Gibbs – with injury likely to mean a cup final recall for both.
This week will hold many plot twists, I’m sure, not least with a warning to Chelsea and other clubs about the shenanigans at Stamford Bridge being a sign of the collusion which is the very heart of corruption which hangs like a pall over the game.
Arsenal though, performed well on the whole yesterday. Everton showed the right amount of the lack of ambition required to screw Liverpool’s hopes up and we did out bit with three well-worked goals, including a peach of a finish from Aaron Ramsey.
For long periods of the game, it was hard to see who was down to ten men. Even so, Petr Cech pulled off some outstanding saves and surely got himself into the cup final starting line-up. Harsh as that is on David Ospina, it’s about trying to win silverware and Cech’s form recently significantly contributed to the usual end of season charge.
Not as much as Alexis’ goals and inexplicably, there are still members of the tin foil hat brigade who think we’ll be better off without him. Disloyalty comes at a price even if the manager is back-pedalling furiously on his public criticism of the player.
Kroenke received the bulk of the criticism and vitriol in yesterday’s charged atmosphere. Wisely, Arsène decided not to take part in the walk of shame – or lap of appreciation as it is properly known. The players enjoyed a relatively trouble-free amble around the turf with the little ‘uns.
Fear and Loathing in the Transfer Market
The season isn’t yet over. Next week’s cup final is something to very much look forward to, even with the hints of trepidation about the quality of the opposition.
Once that is over, we embark on the toughest summer in Arsène’s reign. Yesterday, he observed that we needed “one or two” players to add to a squad he feels is important to keep together.
Taking Wenger’s words literally is a dangerous game. With the cup final left, criticising the players causes problems and any hint of disruption sends this side into ‘wobble’ mode. We saw this year how badly that can affect us.
My guess is that keeping Alexis and Özil remains his primary target. Last year’s striker, Alexandre Lacazette, is off to Atletico while Monaco reportedly turned down £100m for Mbappe. Wenger must look elsewhere to solve that problem.
I don’t believe that missing out on the Champions League will affect our actions in the transfer market. Plenty of quality players move to clubs not in that tournament. Padding the pay packet quells that disappointment. Exiting the competition every year in the Round of Sixteen is surely equally detrimental.
There’s a groundswell of opinion that we should ‘mug off’ the Europa League. That’s folly, in my view. The winners get into the Champions League and the state of Arsenal right now, leaves me to believe it’s our best route back into the competition.
I honestly don’t see us improving significantly enough to overhaul the current top four with serious investment this summer; goalkeeper, two central defenders, central striker. As well as Arsène’s usual foray into the market for a midget midfielder.
It’s going to be a fun summer.